A couple of months ago, a friend sent a short list of recommended YA reads. On this list was A Brief History of Montmaray, with the note: “I don’t normally go in for princesses but this one is pretty awesome.” I’ve never been interested in princesses, either, so the note piqued my curiosity. What would make a princess interesting to me?
A Brief History of Montmaray, apparently!
Sophia, whose journal entries comprise this brief history, is one of several princesses of the island of Montmaray. The eldest princess, Sophia’s cousin Veronica, is daughter of the current–not-quite-sane–King John. Sophia’s sister is the youngest princess (who’d rather be a prince, thank you very much); her brother, the prince, is away studying in England. As the number of villagers grows increasingly sparse, the girls must manage the castle virtually on their own.
Even before Nazi-related trials and tribulations enter the story, it’s a captivating tale of survival, humor and grace. The girls matter-of-factly face a unique set of circumstances that, to them, are simply ordinary life. Each girl is so vibrantly portrayed and so realistic, I felt increasingly as I turned the pages they were good friends I’ve known my whole life. Part of this might be a testament to how deeply I relate to their circumstances, given that I was one of four siblings who survived childhood despite poverty, isolation and a parental figure whose mental illness made her more of a parental figurehead than a parent in some regards. Mostly, though, I think it’s Michelle Cooper’s compassionate, loving, poignant depiction of each of the girls and all the other characters of this stunning novel.
When everything goes awry even by the girls’ standards, the book becomes impossible to set down. (It was merely “extremely difficult” before.) I plowed through the last 100 pages this morning before my son awakened. I rejoiced at the book’s beautiful conclusion, which so comforts me given how it mirrors my own life questions at the moment, and also at the fact there are more Montmaray books waiting to be devoured by me. If only I’d checked them out preemptively!
If you don’t enjoy princess tales, you might nevertheless enjoy this princess tale, and the fiercely independent, precocious princesses who make it such a beautiful, delightful tale of survival.